Solar terms first mapped out 4,000 years ago

By Yuan Shenggao (China Daily)

At the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, a countdown featuring 24 solar terms drew the attention of the global audience and gave a glimpse of the ancient Chinese almanac science.

The establishment of 24 solar terms is believed to be an outstanding contribution to the world made by ancient Chinese almanac scientists. The system, used by Chinese people in both ancient and modern times to guide farming activities, was recognized as an intangible cultural heritage item by UNESCO in 2016.

An archaeological excavation in 2003 pointed to the theory that the village of Taosi in the Shanxi county of Xiangfen might be the source of the 24 solar terms and the Chinese astronomic and almanac sciences.

An archaeological discovery in the village of Taosi proved that the system was in place some 4,000 years ago.

Excavation of the Taosi site started in the 1950s and the process has continued to this day.

One of the most important discoveries was 13 columns of compressed earth found in 2003.

The function of the columns was unknown to archaeologists at first. After years of watching the columns' projection under the sun, researchers realized this was an ancient observatory. The columns were used to measure sunbeam angles and determine the 24 solar terms of a year, according to researchers working with the site.

There were other breakthroughs in the study of the remains, which made researchers think that the site might be the capital of the nation governed by the legendary emperors of Yao and Shun more than 3,000 years ago.

One milestone discovery was pottery relics with pictographs including the character of Yao. Archaeologists believe this was an ancient writing system more than 500 years older than the Shang Dynasty (c.16th century-11th century BC) oracles written on bones and turtle shells, which were discovered in Anyang city, Henan province.

There was also a set of musical instruments discovered at the site. Among these, a bronze bell was identified as being made 4,000 years ago. It is said to be the earliest musical instrument found in China.

Excavation of the site is still underway. Gao Jiangtao, head of the archaeological team, said excavations to date had covered less than 1 percent of the site.

In October 2021, the Taosi site was included on the list of "China's major archaeological discoveries in a century".

Peng Ke'er contributed to this story.